I was barely a day old as an intern at Episcopal Charities and got the chance to make my first couple of site visits to the wonderful Crossroads Community Services. This non-profit, spearheaded by the dynamic Rev. Edward Sunderland, is an integral ministry of St. Bartholomew’s Church in the heart of midtown Manhattan. I was fortunate enough to be a part of their Wednesday morning breakfast service and their monthly Thursday Food Pantry service.
The first thing that struck me, as I made my way bright and early to their 6am breakfast preparation, was the immediate sense of belonging I felt – not only from the staff, but also the guests. I must have been looking lost because as soon as I got near the building I was warmly greeted and ushered in. First, one of the guests waiting outside for breakfast service to start, wished me good morning, directed me to the entrance, and thanked me for being there. Then, when I tried to find my work station, the volunteers immediately sensed my new-ness, scooped me up, explained the ropes, and treated me as if I was their oldest friend. What a great welcome!
Volunteers told me that Crossroads runs three breakfast services a week- Sundays, Mondays and Wednesdays. Every service offers guests two options: to take-out food or to sit-in and be served restaurant-style in the dining hall. I helped prepare meals for the take-out kitchen and serve in the dining hall. The day I was in, the menu was huge! There was a choice of cheese or PBJ sandwiches, chicken pasta, a green salad, a chickpea salad, and flatbread pizzas for entrees, all made from scratch. And not to forget the regular fixings: bagels and cream cheese, apples, nectarines, Greek yogurt, grape juice, pretzels, raisins, milk and coffee! Guests would enter, sit at three large dining tables and be served whatever they wanted. It was eye-opening to see the sense of community, especially, the camaraderie among the volunteers (many of whom were from the New York Cares program), as well as between the volunteers and the guests.
Later in the same week, I joined a new volunteer team to help out at Crossroads’ monthly food pantry. My day at the pantry gave me greater insight into the complex administrative work that is behind the scenes at Crossroads’ food programs. I was walked through the intake processes, registrations, and eligibility. While open to anyone who can offer proof of residency and family size, the food pantry keeps track of clients’ monthly visits and is an immaculate exercise in record keeping, procedure and efficiency. A “choice” model pantry, the pantry offers guests an experience similar to a supermarket, choosing a balanced array of groceries from the many available options. The day I was in, we gave out almost 2000 meals, serving about 250 guests, of which most were regulars. In addition to canned and packaged items we offered a huge selection of fresh produce—onions, potatoes, lettuce, cabbage, tomatoes, yellow squashes, cucumbers, broccoli, carrots, apples, bananas—the list was endless! The volunteers were enthusiastic, kind, patient and enjoyed helping shoppers through the pantries. And the guests always left with huge smiles on their faces!
As excellent as this whole experience was, I cannot go without mentioning the leader of the Crossroads Community, Rev. Edward Sunderland. Under Father Edward’s leadership, Crossroads is a community that supports and welcomes every member and visitor, whether they are there to get help, give help, or both. And he embodies the warmth and commitment he expects from volunteers and guests alike. Consistently enthusiastic and patient he is always in the thick of things—doing intakes, encouraging volunteers, chatting up guests – all, of course, while taking the time to show me the ropes!
Apart from the thrice a week breakfast service and monthly pantry, Crossroads Community Services also offers daily dinner services with food rescued from nearby restaurants, a Saturday morning coffee house, and a 10-bed women’s shelter along with services to obtain permanent housing. Given their extensive programming, they are always in need of volunteers and are grateful for the financial support you extend to them through Episcopal Charities. If you are looking for a fast-paced, challenging, yet welcoming community to volunteer at, attend an orientation in the Vestry Room of St. Bartholomew’s Church on the fourth Monday of each month at 6 PM. To learn more about Crossroads, visit their website and check out their Facebook page.